By Jenna Ebener
Our school facility dog, Gregory, bounded down the hallway to me with his ball. I threw it back down the hall as my coworkers cheered him on. He was so excited, he missed the ball and kept running towards the onlookers until he ended perfectly between someone’s legs so she could pet him. Before long, he was on his back with his belly in the air. In that moment, a stranger looking in would never have realized that we were mourning the loss of three medically fragile students in less than four weeks.
It has been incredible for me to watch how the simplicity and transparency of Gregory’s joy can bring joy to so many people, even in the midst of grief. He has been a role model of self-care. He picks up on the sadness of others and comforts them, yet he allows his puppy side to come out in play.
Even before our losses, Gregory has been teaching me lessons. By taking care of Gregory, I have been learning how to take better care of myself. By taking him out for walks every day at lunch, I, myself, am getting out in the fresh air and taking a quick breather from work. By realizing that he needs a relaxing evening, I leave work earlier than I would have without him by my side. Now, in the face of these losses, by making sure he has times of play throughout his day beyond comforting people, I get the release of endorphins from smiling and laughing as I watch him.
I know Gregory is a large reason why I have been able to stand firm in my faith throughout these trials. Yes, I am struggling and still trying to figure out how to process everything, but I have found peace in God. I will come home drained from a day of focusing on others’ needs, including Gregory’s needs. Yet, when I take a moment to channel my thoughts on God, I am able to refocus. I turn on the radio to K-love and find meaning in the musician’s words as I sing to God and dance with my pup.
Countless times at night, all I need to do is look over at Gregory and my cat, Jaspurr, to see a reminder of God’s love and presence. God reminds me over again that he is present always. Even when the joy lasts only a minute or two, I can feel it making a long-term difference. “When the going gets tough; And my strength’s not enough; I see
You showing up like never before; This battle for my heart; You took on from the start; You are the peace when my mind’s at war” (Riley Clemmons, “Fighting For Me”).
It is okay, great even, to find joy amid sorrows. It does not negate the depth of tragedy, but rather allows us to remember that God is with us through everything. Each night as Gregory cuddles with me, I whisper in his ear that he is amazing, that he is making such a difference, and that he is loved.
Do you hear God telling you the same things? Who or what is it that brings out that joy and peace in you? To spread God’s love to others we first need to acknowledge his love for us. Nothing is greater than God’s love, which can bring you true joy no matter the situation. “So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy” (John 16:22).
(Jenna Ebener, who has a Master of Social Work from St. Ambrose University in Davenport, is a social worker at a school in Colorado for students with disabilities.)